U.S. Tracks Threats Against West by Al Qaeda Affiliate in Syria

In addition to Islamic State, groups in Syria that pose a threat to the U.S. include Nusra Front, shown above in Damascus in July. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

In addition to Islamic State, groups in Syria that pose a threat to the U.S. include Nusra Front, shown above in Damascus in July. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By SIOBHAN GORMAN and JULIAN E. BARNES:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. is tracking multiple terror plots based out of Syria that target the West—threats that current and former intelligence officials say have been traced to al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and not to Islamic State, the extremist group that has seized the world’s attention.

Disclosures about the plots, which include bombings, are raising new questions about whether U.S. military strategy focusing on Islamic State militants could end up missing part of the threat Western countries face from Syria.

The U.S.-driven focus on Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, already has prompted questions from some senior military and intelligence officials as well as independent experts and analysts.

“Does ISIS represent a threat to the U.S.? Yes, of course, but it isn’t the only issue,” said John Cohen, who recently left his post as the top counterterrorism official at the Homeland Security Department to teach at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “The threats emanating from Syria go beyond the threat posed by ISIS.”

At the White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the threat posed by Islamic State militants is different from that posed by other extremist groups in Syria and “if left unchecked” could present a risk to the U.S. domestically.

“ISIL is not the only group we focus on in the region. The actions we take—not all of which are public—are tailored appropriately to the threats we face,” she said.

Islamic State extremists, who have seized control of territory and towns across Iraq and Syria, represent a serious danger to U.S. and Western interests, mainly in the region, said the officials. But so do groups more tightly affiliated with the Pakistan-based leadership of al Qaeda.

Two such groups are the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and a cell of al Qaeda leaders now in Syria that works closely with Nusra Front known as Khorasan.

U.S. officials say Khorasan is a growing hazard, particularly to the U.S., because its members are focused on violence toward the West and have been eyeing attacks on American airliners.

On Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as Islamic State “in terms of threat to the homeland.” It was the first time a U.S. official has acknowledged the group’s existence.

The groups have shown an affinity for bomb plots. Officials say they have grown alarmed that terrorists could attempt some attacks soon, such as a number targeting European countries from operatives based in Syria and Turkey.

The plots emanating from Syria likely have been under development for months, but the groups are vying for prominence with Islamic State, which has catapulted to the top of the U.S. target list in the region, the current and former officials said.

In Australia on Thursday, police carried out early morning raids in Sydney and another major city aimed at disrupting what they said were plans by local Islamic State supporters to behead members of the public. That plot represents a new nightmare scenario for U.S. officials, in which the brutal tactics of Islamic State militants are adopted more broadly by sympathetic extremists.

Officials wouldn’t describe in any detail the nature, location or timing of the plots. Together, Nusra Front and Khorasan are suspected to have multiple plots in the works targeting countries in Europe as well as the U.S.

Read more at WSJ

ISIS Releases New Agitprop Video, Goes Underground

From the Islamic State's propaganda video "Flames of War"

From the Islamic State’s propaganda video “Flames of War”


Clarion Project, Wed, September 17, 2014:

In an apparent response to America’s top general saying that he could foresee American troops on the ground in Iraq, the Islamic State released a new propaganda video titled “Flames of War” (see below).

The 52-second clip, purported to be the trailer for a longer movie “coming soon,” shows Hollywood-like special effects used to blow up an American tank and troops, and injured American soldiers being loaded into an emergency vehicle.  The clip cuts to U.S. President Barak Obama saying that, “Combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.” The video’s final frames show Islamic State fighters aiming a pistol over kneeling prisoners, ostensibly captured American soldiers.

The video was released to social media outlets hours after Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel that he may end up recommending the use of some American forces on the ground in Iraq, namely by embedding them within Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting to regain territory seized by the Islamic State.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, using the term “close combat advising” to describe the role of these troops.

Addressing the fact that Obama has said that there will no troops on the ground, Dempsey added, “At this point, his stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat. But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Those cases may include using U.S. personnel on the ground to call airstrikes.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel joined Dempsey at the hearing, explaining that U.S. efforts in Iraq and Syria will last for a number of years. There will be no “shock and awe” strategy that characterized the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Hagel said.

Meanwhile, despite the Islamic State’s media bravado, the group has been taking direct action in anticipation of American strikes. Local citizens have reported that the group has gone underground in its “capital” stronghold of Raqqa, Syria as well in Iraq.

The Islamic State has been moving and dispersing their heavy equipment daily, with some equipment being abandoned altogether. Fighters are now trying to blend in to local populations. Their office headquarters have been evacuated, and families of Islamic State militants have been relocated.

“They are trying to keep on the move,” one Raqqa resident, who requested anonymity, was quoted as saying. “They have sleeper cells everywhere. They only meet in very limited gatherings.”

However, the group is still highly operational. A recent attack on a Syrian government war plane flying near Raqqa scored a direct hit.

Citizens in Raqqa have also been living cautiously since Obama’s latest speech. Shops in the town now routinely close early in the day, and the value of the U.S. dollar has seen a significant increased in the area. Although a number of residents have left the city, there has not been a mass exodus.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State is keeping up its local propaganda as well. A flier distributed to Raqqa’s residents reminded them that they are expected to comply with a strict code of behavior as mandated by sharia law (no smoking, drinking, etc.). The flier also told women that they must stay at home and that anyone caught with a connection to the Assad government would be killed.

Ironically, the flier announced that residents would see “the great difference” between living under the Islamic State the “oppressive secular government.”

Where Did IS Come From?

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
September 12, 2014

1062The simple answer – and the one you’ll hear most often – is that IS, or Islamic State (formerly ISIS) emerged out of al-Qaida, gathering strength through the ongoing civil war in Syria and unrest in Iraq.

But that’s only part of the story: the rest is based in Europe (and even in America), where governments have continually – if unwittingly – financed programs that breed radicalization in Muslim communities there. Now, more and more of those radical Muslims, most born and bred in the West, are joining IS and its jihad; and in their efforts to prevent it, Europe’s leaders in particular may in fact be strengthening the threat.

In fact, as IS strengthens its grip in Iraq, European Muslim youth are increasingly drawn to join. Following the gruesome horror of IS’s beheadings and executions these past few weeks, the number of Belgian youth heading off to join the terrorist group in Syria increased significantly, according to Belgian security agency OCAP. NotedBelgium’s Nieuwsblad: “The recent increase is striking, and is according to our information partly explainable by the enormous amount of propaganda that ISIS produces on social media. The spread of shocking images, such as the mass execution of 250 Syrian soldiers, and the execution of American journalist James Foley, seem only to send Muslim youth towards radicalization.”

It’s not just in Belgium.

Last week, Dutch officials arrested two families from the town of Huizen as they prepared to join the jihad in Syria, confiscating the passports of all parents and their six children, aged eight months to nine years old. Around the same time, the Dutch-American radical known as Jermaine W successfully departed for Syria with his wife and children. Jermaine, whose father was American, is well known in the Netherlands as a member of Holland’s extremist Hofstadgroep, and as a friend of Hofstadgroep leader Mohammed Bouyeri, the terrorist killer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Jermaine was arrested in 2004 for a letter in which he outlined plans to murder activist and then-Parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but was released in 2006 on the basis of “insufficient evidence.”

Many of these European jihadists, like Jermaine, travel with their children, whom they then place in jihadist training camps in the hopes of producing a new, stronger generation of Islamic warriors for the Islamic State. Recent reporting from VICE shows a Belgian father coaching his very young son to kill “unbelievers,” while other children play and train with rifles.

But the problem did not begin with emigration to Syria. It began with the radicalization of these Muslims while they lived on European soil, attended European mosques and joined European programs for Muslim youth – programs frequently created in an effort to prevent such radicalization. But according to a report in Dutch newsweekly Elsevier, many presumably moderate mosques have used government funds to subsidize visits from extremist imams such as Usman Ali, who has given speeches at the Greenwich Islamic Center. Ali’s fee, according to Elsevier, was paid through a €75,000 government subsidy ostensibly aimed at “preventing radicalization.” By 2010, when government subsidies to the center had expanded to €168,000, Ali was serving on its board.

Just who is Usman Ali? Among other things, he is known for showing videos of the 9/11 attacks to children, while preaching “Allah is the Almighty,” (“allahu akbaar”) reports Elsevier. The leader of what has been called a “powerful web of Islamic radicals and terror convicts,” he has also been accused of inspiring Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, in the horrific almost-beheading of British soldier Lee Rigby outside the military barracks in Woolwich, South East London. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ali denied the allegations.

Similar situations abound in the Netherlands, most notably at Amsterdam’s Blue Mosque, which is governed via an intricate web of organizations and finances by the Muslim Brotherhood, owned by the government of Kuwait, and led by Kuwait’s Minister of Religious Affairs. Among the speakers invited there: Khalid Yasin, known largely for being the inspiration for “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Closer to home, the Muslim Association of Canada, which has received funding from the government of Alberta, has in turn financed Hamas and the Islamic Relief and Human Concern International (IRHCI). According to documents uploaded to Point de Bascule, a conservative web site based in Canada, “On its website, Islamic Relief Canada lists eight categories of zakat beneficiaries. These eight categories match exactly the categories listed in the Muslim Brotherhood-endorsed manual of sharia Umdat al-Salik.” The organization also specifically encourages charity for “Muslims waging jihad: those struggling in the path of Allah.”

Western governments likely are not knowingly funding such projects: but as Elsevierpoints out, “German security agencies have warned for years – such as in their annual report for 2007 – that moderate Islamic organizations can breed radical groups. While they do not recruit youths for the jihad, by encouraging a strong ‘Islamic identity,’ they make the risk of radicalization that much greater.”

Now Europe is proposing new solutions to tidy up this mess. Top among them: revoking the passports of those who go to Syria, or who are stopped at the border or en route, as in the case of the two families from Huizen.

But is this really the best answer? The Muslims who make the journey for jihad are already radicalized. They have already turned against the West, and committed themselves to battling against it – violently, and without mercy. Their minds and hearts are with the Islamic State, even as they live in Paris or New York, in Amsterdam or Detroit. Withholding their passports only keeps them where they are – among us, their enemies, the ones they plan to destroy.

The uncomfortable, tragic truth is we helped create their murderous mindsets, their hatred of the West. That was our mistake. We should not make another by keeping them here, inside our own homes. Let them go. And lock the doors behind them.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.

Is Obama’s ISIS Strategy to Make It Someone Else’s Problem?

140907obamaconfusedCenter for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler:

The New York Times is previewing what they say will be President Obama’s strategy for deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), and its newly established “caliphate” during his speech to the nation Wednesday. According to the report, which cites unnamed senior administration officials, the strategy involves a series of air strikes aimed at degrading ISIS’ capabilities, followed by arming and training the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters, and possibly Sunni tribal forces, before utilizing those forces to conduct an armed incursion into ISIS’ Syrian stronghold, in a campaign which the New York Times notes will have “no obvious precedent”, and which the administration forecasts to take approximately three years:

The final, toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation — destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria — might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 months. Mr. Obama will use a speech to the nation on Wednesday to make his case for launching a United States-led offensive against Sunni militants gaining ground in the Middle East, seeking to rally support for a broad military mission while reassuring the public that he is not plunging American forces into another Iraq war.

If the New York Times piece does indeed reflect the Obama Administration view (and there is no reason to suggest that it does not), it suffers from a number of potential problems.

Those waiting for a unified Iraqi central government which is more inclusive and alleviates the concerns of Iraq’s Sunni minority may be waiting forever. The degree of influence exerted over the Iraqi government by Iran, and Iran’s need to rely  on Shia militia fighters to bolster defenses of both Baghdad, and importantly, Damascus will make inclusion difficult. The same Iranian IRGC commander Qassem Sulemani, responsible for propping up Assad, was reported to have also personally overseen the retaking the town of Amerli, Iraq from ISIS. Allowing the U.S. to arm Kurdish and Sunni forces, who, having beaten ISIS may go on to finally finish off Assad is not in Tehran’s best interest. And making an inclusive government a requirement means that Iran is given the ability to play spoiler on the plan. I’ve expressed support in the past for arming and training Kurdish troops, but we shouldn’t wait for the Iraqi central government to meet some “inclusiveness” standard before we do so. That can be done now. The Kurds reportedly offered to serve as ground forces against ISIS even before Mosul fell to the jihadists.

Secondly, the assumption by the administration, that Sunni tribes will prefer an Iraqi government under Iranian tutelage to what the New York Times called the “the harsh Shariah law[ISIS] has imposed” may underestimate both the popularity of shariah law, as well as the antipathy towards the Shia militants used by Baghdad to repress the Sunnis. While ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate has been widely rejected in the Islamic world, the Sunni uprising ISIS has led against Baghdad has not. Consider this statement against ISIS’s caliphate, from Muslim Brotherhood shariah jurist Yusuf Al Qaradawi’s International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS):

The IUMS has followed the statements issued by the organization called the “Islamic State” which sprang forth from Iraq, with other Iraqi forces, defending Iraqi Sunnis, and others who were oppressed in that country. We rejoiced over them and we welcomed their mobilization to reject oppression and tyranny in the Earth.”

It may be the case that Sunni forces choose ISIS over an Iranian puppet regardless.

Finally, given the projected timeline of “years” to defeat ISIS, with a 36-month campaign  in Syria commencing only after the arming and training has taken place, and one wonders if the Obama Administration isn’t aware of these flaws in their logic.

Perhaps the real plan is to delay until ISIS is someone else’s problem?

Also see:

Attack ISIS in Syria Even If It Helps Assad

islamic-state-flag-plane-apCenter for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz:

Three questions are being raised by pundits and politicians about how Iran and Syria’s Assad regime should figure into possible military action by the United States and its allies against ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State.

  • Is it a mistake to attack ISIS in Syria since ISIS is also an enemy of the Assad regime and such attacks may ensure Assad holds on to power?
  • Should the U.S. team up with the Assad regime to attack ISIS in Syria?
  • Should the U.S. work with Iran to destroy ISIS?

Some are arguing we should not bomb ISIS in Syria because that would strengthen Assad. Others argue since the ISIS threat is so dire, we should work with Assad to destroy it.

A few believe we should work with Iran against ISIS.

These difficult questions reflect how messy the situations in Iraq and Syria have become as a result of numerous policy mistakes by the United States and Europe over the last few years.

Doing anything to prop up the brutal Assad dictatorship is obviously an unpalatable course of action. Some experts have proposed clever ways to prevent the Syrian army from benefiting from U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria by also bombing Syrian airfields and attacking the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias to buy time to train and arm the moderate Syrian rebels of the Free Syrian Army — FSA.

Such proposals are fantasies. Attacking the Syrian army would get the United States into a war with Syria and put U.S. planes at risk of being shot down by Syrian air defenses. Moreover, the Free Syrian Army is badly outmatched by ISIS and the Syrian army. After withholding arms since 2011 from the FSA, attempting to arm and train these rebels now to make them a force capable of taking on ISIS and the Syrian army would take many months, assuming this is even possible.

The truth is the United States and Europe effectively conceded the Syrian civil war to Assad years ago. If the West had attacked Syrian forces in 2011 when they began their bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters or created humanitarian safe zones in Syria in 2011 or 2012, the Syrian rebels may have defeated the Assad regime before it was shored up by Iran and Russia.

Given the seriousness of the ISIS threat and the likelihood that Assad is not going to be defeated, attacking ISIS in Syria even though this may benefit the Assad government is the right move. However, the U.S. should not do anything to further legitimize Assad by allying with him to defeat ISIS. We should instead warn Damascus that we will retaliate against any Syrian government attacks on Western aircraft. I believe the Assad government probably would go along with this.

There is a temptation to team up with Iran to combat ISIS.

I suspect senior Obama officials are already exploring this idea with Iranian diplomats on the margins of ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program. This would be a serious mistake. Iran bears significant responsibility for the outbreak of sectarian tensions in Iraq since 2011 due to its strong support for the Maliki government and by its training of Shiite militias that have massacred Iraqi Sunnis. America’s policy should be reduce Iran’s influence in Iraq and Syria and do nothing to increase its influence.

To defeat the ISIS terrorist army, the United States will need to make some difficult decisions that will have significant downsides. Boosting Assad by attacking ISIS in Syria is a price the U.S. and its allies should be prepared to pay given the situation on the ground in Syria and American and regional security interests.

That is as far as we should go.

The U.S. and its allies should not cooperate with the Syrian or Iranian government to defeat ISIS because of the destabilizing impact of such actions and to avoid legitimizing these regimes.

Global drive to stop jihadis going to Syria, Iraq

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By Lori Hinnant:

PARIS: New laws make it easier to seize passports. Suspected fighters are plucked from planes. Authorities block finances and shut down radical mosques. And behind the scenes, Silicon Valley firms are under increasing pressure to wipe extremist content from websites as Western intelligence agencies explore new technologies to identify returning fighters at the border.

Governments from France to Indonesia have launched urgent drives to cut off one of the ISIS’ biggest sources of strength: foreign fighters. At the heart of the drive is mounting concern that the organization is training the next generation of international terrorists.

Those fears have gained urgency from the group’s horrific methods: A British militant is suspected of beheading two American journalists, and a Frenchman who fought with the ISIS is accused in a deadly attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium.

With each video that ricochets around social networks, the militants gain new recruits.

Britain has taken a particularly active role in censoring content deemed to break the country’s strict rules against extremist propaganda. U.K. officials recently revealed they have been granted “super flagger” status on sites such as YouTube, meaning their requests to remove videos with grisly content or that encourage terrorism are fast-tracked.

Over the past four years, an Internet-focused counterterror unit of London’s Metropolitan Police instigated the removal of 45,000 pieces of content, the force said last week. ISIS, however, have just as quickly found other, more decentralized platforms.

In the United States, officials are trying to identify potential jihadists by comparing travel patterns with those of people who have already joined the fight, a counterterrorism official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.

A French law to seize passports is being fast-tracked through parliament, and the government is ramping up arrests of increasingly young teenagers making plans for jihad.

That can mean last-minute arrests at the airport, as happened to a 16-year-old girl and her alleged recruiter trying to pass through security in Nice Saturday, and to a man at Australia’s Melbourne Airport who was pulled off a flight last week carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash and ISIS’ black-and-white flag in his luggage.

Britain proposed laws Monday to let police seize the passports of those suspected of having traveled abroad to fight, while the Netherlands is making it easier to strip people of their nationality and go after Internet providers that spread propaganda.

In Bosnia, authorities carried out a major anti-terror sweep Wednesday. They detained 16 people suspected of fighting in Syria and Iraq and recruiting Balkan men to join militants there.

Anti-jihadist efforts are being ramped up in traditionally Muslim countries as well: Indonesia is breaking up meetings of ISIS supporters and seizing T-shirts and other items promoting the group, and Tunisia is shutting down mosques and suspected financiers.

For the radicals who have already reached Syria, the focus of European spy agencies is on trying to identify them when they return. That can mean scouring social media sites for photos of foreign fighters or electronic intercepts for hints of terrorist activity abroad.

Officials are considering the deployment of more advanced techniques like voice recognition to identify suspected jihadis at border control by matching their conversations to those heard on militants’ videos, former U.K. counterterrorism chief Bob Quick told the Associated Press earlier this year.

There is huge interest, he said, in “being able to identify these people at the border.”

The concern is that returning fighters will launch attacks at home. Australia draws on lessons from Afghanistan a decade ago, saying of the 25 citizens who returned to Australia after fighting against Western interests there, two-thirds became involved in terrorist activities back home. Some remain in prison.

“The Australians and their supporters who have joined terrorist groups in the Middle East are a serious and growing threat to our security,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament Monday. “People who kill without compunction in other countries are hardly likely to be law-abiding citizens should they return to Australia.”

A compilation of government estimates shows more than 2,000 people with European passports have fought or are fighting in Syria and Iraq – with most looking to join ISIS.

Read more at Daily Star

 

US-Iranian military, intelligence cooperation in war on ISIS reaps first successes in Syria and Iraq

IraqSyriaBombing

DEBKAfile, Sep. 5, 2014:

At least 18 foreign ISIS fighters including Americans and Europeans were killed Thursday, Sept. 4, in a Syrian air raid of the Al Qaeda-ISIS’ northern Syrian headquarters in the Gharbiya district of Raqqa. The raid caught a number of high Al Qaeda commanders and a large group of foreign adherents assembled at the facilty.

A second group of high ISIS officers were killed or injured in another Syrian air raid over their base in Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that top men of the Islamist terrorist group were holding meetings at both places Thursday to coordinate IS strike plans in Syria and Iraq.  For Syria, these plans center on the Deir a-Zor and Al Qaim areas, while in Iraq, they focus on targets in the east and center of the country.

The twin Syrian air offensive coincided with the opening of the two-day NATO Summit outside the Welsh town of Newport .

The information about the two Al Qaeda meetings at Raqqa and Abu Kamal could have come from only two sources: US surveillance satellites and aircraft or Iranian agents embedded at strategic points across Syria.

Syria does not have the necessary intelligence capabilities for digging out this kind of information. Nor does its air force normally exhibit the surgical precision displayed in the two strikes on Al Qaeda bases.

It is therefore more than likely that they owed their success to the widening military and intelligence cooperation between the United State and Iran in Iraq and Syria.

President Barack Obama will have taken his seat at the NATO summit to discuss ways of fighting ISIS after word of the successful Syrian strikes was already in his pocket. While they must be credited to top-quality US aerial surveillance over Syria and Iraq, they were undoubtedly made possible by the Obama administration’s deepening military and intelligence ties with Iran.

Many of the allies present at Newport will not welcome these tidings – Britain, Germany and Australia, in particular. They deeply resent being displaced as America’s senior strategic partners by the Revolutionary Republic of Iran, after their long partnership with the US in fighting terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But they will find it hard to argue with success.

On Aug. 31, our military sources reveal, US and Iranian special forces fighting together, broke the 100-day IS siege of the eastern Iraqi town of Amerli, 100 km from the Iranian border, to score a major victory in their first joint military ground action.

Then, Wednesday, Sept. 3, US jets struck an IS base in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, killing its commander, Abu Hajar Al-Sufi, and two lieutenants of the IS chief Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi.
While President Obama has denied having a strategy for fighting ISIS, a working mechanism appears to have been put in place to support a trilateral military offensive against al Qaeda’s Islamist State. The successful attacks in the last 24 hours were apparently made possible by this mechanism: Iranian intelligence collected US surveillance data from the Americans and passed it on to Syria for action.

Also see:

Senior Leaders of Islamic State Eliminated in Airstrikes

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul

Arutz Sheva, By Ari Yashar, Sep. 5, 2014:

The leadership of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Syria and Iraq took a sharp blow on Thursday, as roughly 20 senior figures, including a top aide to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were killed in airstrikes according to the Iraqi defense ministry.

In airstrikes on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where IS began its blitz conquest of Iraq in June, Baghdadi’s top aide was killed along with a senior IS military commander, Abu Alaa al-Iraqi, according to Iraqi sources cited by BBC.

It remains unclear if the airstrike was conducted by local US-trained Iraqi forces, or by the US, which has been engaged in a series of targeted airstrikes on IS terrorists in Iraq since last month.

IS took a blow in eastern Syria as well, where 18 foreign jihadist senior leaders of the group, including an American jihadist, were killed by an airstrike in the IS-held city of Raqqa according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The top IS leaders were in the municipal building of Gharbiya, which has been used as a headquarters for the extremist group, when the strike occurred.

In yet another airstrike in the eastern Syrian city of Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border on Thursday, an as yet unknown number of IS terrorists were killed according to the human rights group.

During the two airstrikes and the ensuing disorder, a total of 13 IS-held captives were able to escape according to the group.

However, IS was not deterred in its campaign of terror, abducting 40 men from the northern Iraqi Sunni town of Hawija in Kirkuk province on Thursday. Residents of the town said they were uncertain why the men were captured, since IS had captured the town without resistance last month.

The recent airstrikes in Iraq, if conducted by the US, illustrate the increasing seriousness with which America is considering IS after two US journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley, were brutally beheaded in executions filmed and broadcast to the world.

After the second journalist was murdered, US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned IS, saying “they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside.”

Also see:

US official: Islamic State threatens to outpace al-Qaeda

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testifies before a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2013.  (photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testifies before a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Matthew Olsen, a senior US counterterrorism official, says it will not be possible to defeat the Islamic State without a new government in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.

by Barbara Slavin,

Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Sept. 3 that the Islamic State (IS) “poses a multifaceted threat” to the United States but there was no “credible information” at present that the group was planning to attack in the United States or had a cell of fighters here capable of doing so.

However, in rare, wide-ranging public comments that followed the beheading of a second American journalist in Syria by IS, Olsen told a packed audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington that the terrorist group was “an extremely dangerous organization” that was “threatening to outpace al-Qaeda as the dominant voice of influence in the global jihadist movement” because of its territorial advances, financial resources and sophisticated propaganda.

Olsen also said, in response to a question from Al-Monitor, that IS could not be defeated while Bashar al-Assad remains at the helm of the government in Syria.

“As long as Assad is in that position — a ruler with no legitimacy in his own country — we have seen that Syria is a magnet for extremism,” Olsen said. “Part of the broader strategy over the long term is a political transition in Syria.”

Olsen’s comments seemed partly intended to counteract an impression left by President Barack Obama at a news conference last week that the United States lacks a strategy for dealing with IS, which grew out of an al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq formed after the 2003 US invasion and which controls a Britain-sized chunk of territory spanning Iraq and Syria.

Since Obama’s comments, administration officials and the president himself have been at pains to explain that he was referring to the lack of a broad regional coalition as well as reliable ground forces that could justify extending US air strikes from Iraq into Syria.

Obama, speaking earlier Sept. 3 in Estonia, said a coalition including Sunni countries would be required “so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS has occupied, and make sure that we have allies on the ground in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted” and might conduct in the future. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are traveling in the Middle East later this week, in part for organizing such a coalition.

Obama said, “It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that’s going to work, that we’re very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are; we’ve made the case to Congress and we’ve made the case to the American people; and, we’ve got allies behind us so that it’s not just a one-off, but it’s something that over time is going to be effective.”

Asked by Al-Monitor if Iran could be part of the coalition given its hostility toward IS and contribution of weapons and advisers to Iraq, Olsen punted. “Obviously, Iran has interests in that region as well,” was all he would say.

Olsen said IS, while only one of a number of terrorist groups that have appeared in the last few years as offshoots of al-Qaeda and chaotic Arab uprisings, had benefited from the failure of the Syrian and Iraqi states to govern effectively and from the disaffection of Sunnis in both countries. IS “has proven to be an effective fighting force,” Olsen said, which “employs a battlefield strategy that is both complex and adaptive” and mixes terrorism with paramilitary assaults.

IS has also distinguished itself by surpassing al-Qaeda in the use of social media such as filming and distributing the horrifying videos of a British jihadist beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

IS “disseminates timely and high quality content on multiple platforms,” Olsen said, while protecting its own private communications from Western prying through encryption and by avoiding the Internet.

In terms of the IS threat to the US homeland, however, Olsen said it was more potential than real. “At this point, we have no credible information that ISIL [another acronym for IS] is preparing to attack the US,” Olsen said.

He said his main concern was that an IS sympathizer “could conduct a self-directed, limited attack with little or no warning” but that such an attack would likely be “limited in scale and scope.”

US law enforcement and intelligence authorities are closely monitoring the movements of Americans and Europeans seeking to join the jihadist cause in Syria and foreign fighters trying to return to their countries of origin.

Read more at Al-Monitor

HANNA: The Ethics Of Fighting With Terrorists

militantTruth Revolt, by Rachael Hanna, Aug. 9, 2014:

The United States is supporting, funding, and arming “terrorists.” Not through back channels, middlemen, Swiss bank accounts or CIA covert operations, but openly and publicly. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was designated as a foreign terrorist organization on October 8, 1997 by the U.S. Department of State after thirteen years of insurgency, including bombing attacks and kidnappings, against Turkish military personnel and citizens. Aside from its use of terrorist tactics, the PKK found itself on the wrong side of the strategically crucial alliance between the United States and Turkey. Now, however, the United States is actively supporting the PKK rebels in their fight against the Islamic State (IS). Additionally, the United States is arming the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to combat IS; these two political parties were classified as “Tier III” terrorist organizations for their role in the armed uprising against Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, although Senator John McCain introduced a Senate amendment last November to have these groups removed from the terror list.

For months now, news headlines have updated the world on the Islamic State’s terrifyingly swift march through Iraq, as militants captured the major cities of Tikrit and Mosul and approached Baghdad and Erbil, where the United States retains military bases. Thousands, most notably the Christians of Mosul and the Yazidis trapped on the Sinjar Mountains, have been slaughtered or forced to flee their homes by IS militants. The Iraqi army failed to stop the onslaught of the Islamic State, even after the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters joined forces with them. But now, IS’s conquests have temporarily stalled in Iraq, due largely to the guerrilla fighters of the PKK, who have allied with the Peshmerga, their long-time rivals, to take back the Mosul dam with the aid of U.S. air strikes. This is good news for the embattled Iraqis and for the United States, which has suffered a loss of international respect for failing to intervene in the civil war and protect persecuted religious minorities sooner. However, these new Kurdish allies may create a legal problem for the United States concerning its terrorism laws.

A Troubled History

The U.S. government has a history of arming controversial rebel groups, beginning with its global mission to prevent the spread of communist ideology in the aftermath of World War II and continuing in the late 20th and early 21st centuries with groups fighting against Islamic extremists and dictators. Major operations include those in Honduras, Chile, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and now Iraq.

Some of the most infamous rebel groups to receive U.S. support were the Contras, groups of guerrilla fighters working to overthrow the communist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. In 1981, the Reagan Administration began financing and arming the rebels. This policy became controversial, not only because of the entanglement in the Iran-Contra Affair, but also because the Contras allegedly engaged in serious and frequent human rights abuses, including attacking and murdering non-combatant civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Unsurprisingly, the Contras were never listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, but under current U.S. law, the group likely warranted the designation; 18 U.S. Code § 2331 defines “international terrorism” as:

violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping, and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

Around the same time, on the other side of the world, the United States was arming another group of rebel fighters—the mujahideen of Afghanistan. Beginning in 1979 and continuing through the 1980s until the collapse of the Soviet Union, mujahideen fighters received weapons and training from the CIA to push back Soviet forces and topple the communist government in Kabul. Unlike the U.S.-backed Contras, the mujahideen successfully drove out the Soviets, and liberated Afghanistan from communism. The ideology that succeeded this regime was even worse.

Dealing with the Consequences

From the U.S.-trained and -armed mujahideen sprung Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, responsible for the 9/11 attacks and deaths of more than 2,200 American soldiers and an estimated 20,000 Afghan civilians in the ground war in Afghanistan. A similarly dangerous and potentially more deadly situation is now unfolding with the Islamic State. Stalling in Iraq, IS has turned its attention to a renewed offensive in northern Syria, using U.S. Humvees captured from the faltering Iraqi army to transport militants and weapons across the border. Armed with American weapons, IS has increased its fighting capabilities and emboldened its fighters, which has added the brutal and tragic beheading of American journalist James Foley to its death toll.

While airstrikes in Iraq have been instrumental in the pushback against IS, President Obama has yet to authorize additional strikes in Syria; for now, America’s solution to the carnage wrought by IS is largely to fight terrorists with other terrorists. It goes without saying that IS must be stopped as quickly and effectively as possible. With an estimated 20,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, the PKK are by far the most experienced and well-trained group to lead a counter-ground attack against IS in northern Iraq and Syria, especially with American air support. After three decades of insurgency with Turkey, PKK rebels are battle-tested and well organized, whereas the Peshmerga and other Kurdish fighters have far less experience and have proven unable to take IS head on. The PKK’s support of besieged minorities and civilians against IS has spurred a lobbying effort in the United States to have the group taken off the State Department’s terrorist organization list. Since a cease-fire agreement with Turkey in March of 2013, the PKK has largely aborted the use of terrorist tactics; however, the group has launched several attacks against Turkish security forces in recent weeks, which could undermine peace negotiations and the recent attempt to declassify it as a terrorist organization.

Fighting in the Grey

It is difficult to determine whether the Contras should have been designated as a terrorist group or whether the United States should have been more cautious about arming the Afghan mujahideen; even hindsight isn’t 20/20. Supporting the PKK may well turn out to be a brilliant strategic move if it leads to the destruction of IS. Nonetheless, in this moment, the PKK is a terrorist organization, and that may put the United States government in a legally grey area. 18 U.S. Code § 2339B states, “Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

This section of the law would seemingly prohibit the United States from supporting the PKK, but a later section of the same law states, “No person may be prosecuted under this section in connection with the term ‘personnel’, ‘training’, or ‘expert advice or assistance’ if the provision of that material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization was approved by the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Attorney General. The Secretary of State may not approve the provision of any material support that may be used to carry out terrorist activity.” This is the exception. As long as the “material support” provided by the United States is not used in a terrorist act, the U.S. government, with approval from both the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, can support foreign terrorist groups. Currently, the PKK is working to defeat IS; killing armed combatants is a legitimate act of war, not terrorism, so it seems that the United States is not acting illegally. However, there is a possibility that arms provided indirectly to the PKK through the Iraqi army and other Kurdish groups could eventually be turned against Turkish security forces and civilians, the latter of which would be an act of terror against a U.S. ally.

A Country Without a Moral Conscious?

What do these situations and potential scenarios mean for U.S. terrorism laws? The point is not whether the United States might entangle itself in grey areas of the laws concerning terrorism; it likely already has. The real question is, do these laws hold any weight? Do they have anything meaningful to contribute to the country’s foreign policy principles and decisions? The United States has chosen not to label groups as terrorist organizations if it is politically inconvenient or would get in the way of a greater policy objective; it provides funding and arms to rebel groups it cannot control, and who have often turned against the United States at a later date; most recently, it is using terrorists to fight other terrorists. If not illegal, this part of American history at least presents a moral predicament, one that we are actively dealing with in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq. Laws are fundamentally impositions of morality on society, but if the laws we write do not create a guiding moral framework, and instead allow us to do what is most convenient, expedient, or politically popular in the moment without serious regard to a higher set of common ethical principles, then where does a secular society based on the rule of law derive its morality from?

Last year, President Obama, now infamously, said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria constituted a moral red line that, once crossed, would result in severe consequences for the Assad regime. This ended up being an empty threat when proposed airstrikes against Syrian military targets failed to gain support on either side of the aisle in Congress. The decisions that need to be made regarding policy in Middle East are complicated, and they are rarely black or white. But that is the entire point of having a strong set of moral principles—you stick to them even when the choices are difficult or unpopular, or when cutting corners might be easier. The question is, what set of moral principles does the United States have, and do its leaders have the backbone to uphold them?

Rachael Hanna ’16 is an Associate World Editor for the Harvard Political Review. Follow her @rhanna213.

Also see:

 

Beheading of Second Journalist Strengthens U.S. Resolve

Screenshot from a video released by the Islamic State of the beheading of America journalist Steven Sotloff.

Screenshot from a video released by the Islamic State of the beheading of America journalist Steven Sotloff.

This brutal display is increasing U.S. efforts to build a coalition to join it in military action against the Islamic State.

BY RYAN MAURO:

David Cawthorne Haines

David Cawthorne Haines

The Islamic State terrorist group has released a video (see edited version below) showing its beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff and is threatening to kill British aid worker David Cawthorne Haines.

The atrocity should be framed for what it is: A barbaric act designed to intimidate America into halting their air attacks against the group. However, this loathsome display is having the opposite effect as the U.S. is acting building a coalition to join it in military action against the Islamic State.

Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria last year. After the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) beheaded American journalist James Foley, the group threatened that Sotloff would be next if U.S. airstrikes on the group did not immediately end.

The graphic video of the beheading was accidentally leaked by the Islamic State, undermining its coordinated campaign to release it on social media. It shows more of the beheading than the previous video, but pans away at the last moment. It is possible that the Islamic State is concerned that footage of Sotloff’s pain would backfire.

Al-Qaeda ended up discouraging beheadings because they are unproductive. The Islamic State recently told supporters to stop posting images of their own beheadings and to only use pictures from official releases.

The Islamic State is concerned about its image enough that its members are posting pictures with kittens and dogs and distributing photos that supposedly show mostly normal livelihood under the Islamic State. They also showed captured Kurdish fighters and argued that they are being treated humanely.

The media is obligated to report on the Islamic State video (and its brutal nature) while carefully avoiding advancement of its propaganda.

It is a delicate balancing act. One way to accomplish this is by putting the video in the context of what’s happening on the ground. It is important that the Islamic State does not succeed in using the beheading to create a narrative of momentum and victory.

The Islamic State is a powerful threat, but it is still resorting to murdering unarmed American journalists to display strength. The beading comes as Iraqi forces backed by U.S. airstrikes stopped the group from conquering the town of Amerli after blockading it for almost three months. An estimated 15,000 Shiite Turkmen living there would have been massacred.

The number of U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State is now at 124. On the same day as the video’s release, the U.S. destroyed 16 vehicles held by the Islamic State near the dam of Mosul. President Obama also decided to send 350 more U.S. soldiers to Iraq to protect American personnel and facilities, raising the number of U.S. soldiers there to 820.

The previous video released by the Islamic State showed the beheading of a Kurdish fighter and the captivity of 14 others. The group also announced that an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Kurdistan, Ansar al-Islam, pledged allegiance to it (a story that Clarion Project originally broke).

The purpose of these releases was to intimidate the Kurds by distracting them from Islamic State retreats. Most importantly, the U.S.-backed Kurds forced the Islamic State to give up the Mosul dam, a piece of infrastructure that the Islamic State could have used tothreaten a half-million people.

The Islamic State is burning oil wells as the Kurds push them back. The Kurds have formed all-female units who see their fight against the Islamic State as a struggle for women’s rights.

The beheadings of Sotloff and Foley are the top news items for Americans and most of the world today, but the Islamic State should not mistake outrage for weakness: The group has failed to pressure Americans into retreat and appeasement. It has only strengthened the resolve of the U.S. and its international partners.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) will soon introduce legislation authorizing U.S. military action against the Islamic State in Syria. And he won’t be met with significant protests.

A poll released a few days ago found that 64% of Americans support U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq, including 73% of Republicans, 64% of Democrats and 57% of independents. Only 20% oppose.

An almost identical majority, 63%, support expanding U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State to Syria. This includes 76% of Republicans, 60% of Democrats and 60% of Independents. Only 16% oppose.

Keep in mind, these numbers are before the release of the second beheading video. The numbers will also climb as President Obama makes the case for action and after Congress authorizes airstrikes in Syria.

Read more at Clarion Project

Inside the Mind of the Western Jihadist

Shiraz Maher

Shiraz Maher

Shiraz Maher, a British citizen who lived the experience, describes the allure of the Islamic State for young Westerners and the deadly peril it poses.

By SOHRAB AHMARI:

London

On 9/11, Shiraz Maher thought to himself: “Yeah, you Americans deserve this. For meddling in the Arab world. For supporting Israel. You shall reap what you sow, and this is what you’ve sown for a long time.”

Within days the college student would quit alcohol, dump his girlfriend and join Hizbut Tahrir, a radical Islamist group he describes as the “political wing of the global jihad movement.” He quickly climbed the ranks before eventually leaving the U.K. Islamist movement and rededicating his life to countering it.

Mr. Maher is today a senior fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, King’s College London, where he researches Europe’s homegrown Islamist movement and profiles the droves of young Britons who are decamping for Syria and Iraq to wage jihad with ISIS, aka the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

These include Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a wannabe rapper from a posh west-London neighborhood who recently posted a Twitter selfie of himself holding a severed head. “Chillin’ with my homie,” read the caption, “or what’s left of him.” Abdel Bary is also suspected to be the terrorist who addresses the camera before beheading American journalist James Foley in a widely circulated online video, though Mr. Maher thinks the masked figure is a different British jihadist.

Abdel Bary is one of 500 to 600 British citizens who have joined the Islamic State, and Mr. Maher’s center estimates about 2,200 foreign fighters from Europe are operating in the region. “Globally we believe the number to be somewhere in excess of 12,000. We’ve counted 74 different nationalities that are represented on the ground.”

Many fighters have European passports, which means they can travel around the Continent and even enter the U.S. with relative ease. Two-hundred-fifty fighters have already returned to the U.K., according to Mr. Maher.

Not all of the foreigners in the region initially intended to join ISIS, which is only one of several groups fighting Bashar Assad’s regime. Yet in recent months the Islamic State has emerged as the most successful and prestigious outfit, while recruits to the other groups have slowed to a trickle.

ISIS proved appealing in part because it was the easiest group to join. Says Mr. Maher: “We know of a lot of people including Britons who’ve tried to join Jabhat al Nusra”—al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise—”who were turned away because Jabhat felt it didn’t know them and so couldn’t trust them. And then they went to ISIS, and ISIS welcomed them with open arms.”

Battlefield prowess was another advantage. “ISIS has been particularly successful at bringing in fighters from Bosnia and Chechnya,” Mr. Maher says. “The greatest human asset that an army can have is fighters with combat experience. And the Bosnians and Chechnyans of course have huge experience, a great deal of sophistication and knowledge about how to fight guerrilla warfare.”

Cultivating a brand helped, too. “ISIS developed a strong social-media presence,” Mr. Maher says, while “other organizations didn’t have the same glamour. And we’re dealing with young men. They want to be with a strong horse, with a winning team. At the moment, ISIS has momentum.”

Finally, the Islamic State has a veneer of authenticity. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, presides over “land that these guys regard as pure and holy,” Mr. Maher says. “There’s a lot of stuff in normative Islamic theology which talks about bilad al-Sham, the land of Syria. The Hadiths, the prophetic tradition, say that when God sends angels, they rest in Syria after their journey.”

Reverence for this angelic pit stop hasn’t stopped the Islamic State from turning it into hell on earth. “In the last 10 months we’ve seen British fighters serve as suicide bombers,” Mr. Maher says. “We’ve documented British fighters executing prisoners of war. And we have documentary evidence of British fighters torturing people in their care.”

The typical British Islamic State terrorist is male, in his 20s and from a South Asian background. “He usually has some university education and a history of Muslim activism,” Mr. Maher adds. The fighters broadly fall into three personality types.

The first is the adventure-seeker. “They’re in jihadist summer school or camp,” Mr. Maher says. “I’m with my buddies, we’re hanging out and we have these greatweapons—AK-47s, RPGs.” The adventure-seekers are often involved with U.K. gangs or drugs, and they might consult “Islam for Dummies” before traveling to Syria. They publish photos of themselves eating fast food, swimming and playing soccer in al-Sham. The message they telegraph to friends back home is: “We live better lives here than we were in London—come.”

Then there are the “really nasty guys,” Mr. Maher says, “the ones who will show off a severed head on Facebook and say, ‘Yeah, I just beheaded this son of a bitch.'” These guys, Mr. Maher adds, “should definitely never come back.'”

The third type are “what you might call idealistic or humanitarian jihadists for want of a better phrase,” Mr. Maher says. “They would say, ‘Look, haven’t you seen what’s happened to the women and children of Aleppo?’ ” Over time, they become hardened and no longer mention the innocents they came to rescue. “The land belongs to Allah,” they now say. “We’re here to impose Islam.”

Mr. Maher himself fits the third type most closely, and had he been born a decade later he might not be sitting across from me at a restaurant eating steak tartare and sipping Guinness. “If I were younger and instead of 9/11 it was the Syrian conflict,” he says, “there’s a very, very good chance I would go. Instead of studying them, I would be the one being studied.”

Read more at Wall Street Journal

See also Shiraz Maher’s latest article at ICSR. Having been deradicalized himself he makes the case for trying to rehabilitate those returning fighters who have not become hardened jihadists:

ICSR Insight – Offering Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq a Way Out

In Search of a Strategy

U.S. President Obama addresses reporters ahead of national security council meeting at the White House in WashingtonNational Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Aug.30, 2014:

Is it better to have no strategy or a delusional strategy?

The question arises, of course, after President Obama’s startling confession on Thursday that he has not yet developed a strategy for confronting the Islamic State, the al-Qaeda-rooted terrorist organization still often called by its former name, ISIS – an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Al-Sham refers to Greater Syria.

You may have noticed that President Obama calls the group ISIL, preferring the acronym that refers to the Levant to the one referring to al-Sham. After all, anything that invokes Syria might remind you of red lines that turned out not to be red lines and the administration’s facilitation of the arming of “moderate rebels” who turned out to include, well, ISIS. The fact is that the president has never had a Syria strategy, either — careening from Assad the Reformer, to Assad the Iranian puppet who must be toppled, to Assad who maybe we should consider aligning with against ISIS — ISIS being the “rebels” we used to support in Syria . . . unless they crossed into Iraq, in which case they were no longer rebels but terrorists . . . to be “rebels” again, they’d have to cross back into Syria or cruise east to Libya, where they used to be enemy jihadists spied on by our ally Qaddafi until they became “McCain’s heroes” overthrowing our enemy Qaddafi.

Got it?

No? Well, congratulations, you may have caught mental health, a condition to be envied even if it would disqualify you from serving as a foreign-policy and national-security expert in Washington. In either party.

The Islamic State’s recent beheading of American journalist James Foley is not the only thing that captured Washington’s attention of late. The Beltway was also left aghast at the jihadist’ rounding up of over 150 Syrian soldiers, forcing them to strip down to their underpants for a march through the desert, and then mass-killing them execution style.

Shocking, sure, but isn’t that what the GOP’s foreign-policy gurus were telling us they wanted up until about five minutes ago? Not the cruel method but the mass killing of Assad’s forces. Nothing oh nothing, we were told, could possibly be worse than the barbaric Assad regime. As naysayers — like your faithful correspondent— urged the government to refrain from backing “rebels” who teem with rabidly anti-American Islamic-supremacist savages, top Republicans scoffed. It was paramount that we arm the rebels in order to oust Assad, even though “we understand [that means] some people are going to get arms that should not be getting arms,” insisted Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Turns out that quite a lot of people who shouldn’t have gotten arms have gotten quite a lot of arms. And that is because Syria is not the only place as to which Republicans urged Obama to ignore federal laws against arming and otherwise supporting terrorists. They did it in Libya, too.

We have several times documented here that influential Republicans led by Senator John McCain were champions of Moammar Qaddafi before they suddenly switched sides — along with President Obama — in campaigning to oust the Libyan regime they had only recently treated (and funded) as a key American counterterrorism ally. The resulting (and utterly foreseeable) empowerment of Islamic supremacists in eastern Libya directly contributed to the Benghazi Massacre of four Americans on September 11, 2012; to the rise of the Islamic State and the expansion of al-Qaeda franchises in Africa, all of which were substantially strengthened by the jihadist capture of much of Qaddafi’s arsenal; and to what has become the collapse of Libya into a virulently anti-American no-man’s land of competing militias in which jihadists now have the upper hand.

The disastrous flip-flop was no surprise. When Mubarak fell in Egypt, Senator McCain stressed that the Brotherhood must be kept out of any replacement government because the Brothers are anti-democratic supporters of repressive sharia and terrorism. He was right on both scores . . . but he soon reversed himself, deciding that the Brotherhood was an outfit Americans could work with after all — even support with sophisticated American weaponry and billions in taxpayer dollars. The Brothers were in power because, in the interim, McCain’s good friend Secretary Clinton pressured Egypt’s transitional military government to step down so the elected “Islamic democracy” could flourish. When the Brothers took the reins, they promptly installed a sharia constitution, demanded that the U.S. release the Blind Sheikh (convicted of running a New York–based terror cell in the 1990s), rolled out the red carpet for Hamas (the terror organization that is the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch), and gave free reign to terrorist leaders — including the brother of al-Qaeda’s leader and members of the Blind Sheikh’s Egyptian jihadist organization — who proceeded to foment the violent rioting at the U.S. embassy in Cairo the same day as the Benghazi Massacre.

I could go on, but you get the point. While ripping Obama for having no Islamic State strategy, Republicans are now reviving the inane strategy of supporting the illusory “moderate Syrian opposition.” Those would be the same forces they wanted to support against Assad. The only problem was that there aren’t enough real moderates in Syria to mount a meaningful challenge to the regime. The backbone of the opposition to Assad has always been the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most effective fighters against the regime have always been the jihadists. So we’re back to where we started from: Let’s pretend that there is a viable, moderate, democratic Syrian opposition and that we have sufficient intelligence — in a place where we have sparse intelligence — to vet them so we arm only the good guys; and then let’s arm them, knowing that they have seamlessly allied for years with the anti-American terrorists we are delegating them to fight on our behalf. Perfect.

There is no excuse for a president of the United States to have no strategy against an obvious threat to the United States. But at least with Obama, it is understandable. He is hemmed in by his own ideology and demagoguery. The main challenge in the Middle East is not the Islamic State; it is the fact that the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda forebears have been fueled by Iran, which supports both Sunni and Shiite terrorism as long as it is directed at the United States. There cannot be a coherent strategy against Islamic supremacism unless the state sponsors of terrorism are accounted for, but Obama insists on seeing Iran as a potential ally rather than an incorrigible enemy.

Moreover, the combined jihadist threat is not a regional one merely seeking to capture territory in the Middle East; it is a global one that regards the United States as its primary enemy and that can be defeated only by America and its real allies. This is not a problem we can delegate to the basket-case governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the “moderate” Syrian “rebels.” Yet the Obama Left’s relentless indictment of American self-defensive action in the Middle East has sapped the domestic political support necessary for vigorous military action against our enemies — action that will eventually have to include aggressive American combat operations on the ground.

But the GOP should take note: The jihad is not a problem we can delegate to the Muslim Brotherhood, either. We will not defeat our enemies until we finally recognize who they are — all of them.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, was released by Encounter Books on June 3.

 

 

 

CIA expert: Obama switched sides in war on terror

President Obama appears to bow to Saudi King Abdullah, on April 1, 2009, in London

President Obama appears to bow to Saudi King Abdullah, on April 1, 2009, in London

By GARTH KANT:

WASHINGTON – It’s an explosive charge, one that practically accuses the president of treason.

A former CIA agent bluntly told WND, America has switched sides in the war on terror under President Obama.

Clare Lopez was willing to say what a few members of Congress have confided to WND in private, but declined to say on-the-record.

She said the global war on terror had been an effort to “stay free of Shariah,” or repressive Islamic law, until the Obama administration began siding with such jihadist groups as the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates.

Why the switch?

Lopez explained, when the so-called Arab Spring appeared in late 2010, “It was time to bring down the secular Muslim rulers who did not enforce Islamic law. And America helped.”

And why would Obama want to do that?

As she told WND earlier this month, Lopez believed the Muslim Brotherhood has thoroughly infiltrated the Obama administration and other branches of the federal government.

She also came to the conclusion Obama had essentially the same goals in the Mideast as the late Osama bin Laden: “to remove American power and influence, including military forces, from Islamic lands.”

Why would Obama order the killing of bin Laden?

Because the president “couldn’t delay any longer,” once the opportunity was presented, Lopez told WND.

There were “no more excuses” available to avoid it and he “thought it might look good,” she mused.

The former CIA operative’s perspective affects her prescription for what the U.S. should do about the terror army ISIS, as she called for caution and restraint.

While there has been a sudden chorus of politicians and military experts calling for the immediate elimination of the terrorist army after it beheaded American journalist James Foley last week, Lopez believes the U.S. should have an overall strategy in place before fully re-engaging in the Mideast militarily.

Any military action would be further complicated, she told WND, if it were not clear which side the U.S. is on, either in the short term or in the overall war on terror.

Lopez’s insights are backed by an impressive array of credentials.

She spent two decades in the field as a CIA operations officer; was an instructor for military intelligence and special forces students; has been a consultant, intelligence analyst and researcher within the defense sector; and has published two books on Iran. Lopez currently manages the counter-jihad and Shariah programs at the Center for Security Policy, run by Frank Gaffney, former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Reagan administration.

In a previous interview with WND, Lopez described the stunning extent of infiltration of the administration and other branches of the federal government by the jihadist group the Muslim Brotherhood.

She said the infiltration began under former President Bill Clinton but really took hold under the Obama administration, which, she said, “includes various levels of understanding and misunderstanding of Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“Some in the administration genuinely appear to believe the Muslim Brotherhood can act as a foil or counterweight to al-Qaida, although with what’s going on in Syria, it’s hard to understand how they would still think that,” she observed.

Lopez felt it was impossible to understand why the president and some of his top appointees, such as CIA Director John Brennan, “consistently seem to apologize for Islam, even in the face of such atrocities as the Foley beheading,” adding, they “take pains to assure the world they don’t think IS, (or the Islamic State, also called ISIS) or whichever perpetrator it was, has anything to do with Islam. How can they possibly believe that genuinely when everything these jihadis do tracks directly to the literal text of Quran, hadiths and Shariah?”

“In any case, and for whatever motivations, there is no doubt this administration switched sides in what used to be called the Global War on Terror,” she said. “Even though President George W. Bush was obviously confused and mistaken when he called Islam a ‘religion of peace’ the day after 9/11, he wasn’t deliberately exonerating the perpetrators. Surrounded by Muslim Brotherhood agents of influence, he simply didn’t understand.”

Much more at WND

The Dark State Rises: Can Barack & Bashar Tag-Team Caliphate? (Pt. 2)

Obama once said Assad had to go. Now can they work together to defeat a common enemy? Does Assad even want to stamp out the Islamic State? (Pt. 2 of 3)